This Incredibly Customizable Controller Will Make You Better at the Switch

Photo: Andrew Liszewski (Gizmodo)

Nintendo makes an excellent standalone controller for those who prefer gaming with something more substantial than the Switch’s Joy-Cons. The Pro Controller was always what I recommended to anyone looking for a Switch gamepad, but not any longer. 8BitDo’s SN30 Pro+ isn’t perfect, but its biggest draw—its ability to be completely customized and reprogrammed—more than makes up for its few flaws.

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If you grew up playing classic consoles like the Super Nintendo, Sega Genesis, or N64, you probably remember third-party controllers being just awful. If I ever went over to a friend’s house to play video games, I always made sure to bring my own controller lest I be stuck with a knock-off and destined to lose at Mortal Kombat. (Sometimes a carpenter’s tools are to blame.)

The state of third-party controllers has improved since then, thankfully, while still remaining competitive in price. If you need a couple of extra controllers for split-screen multiplayer gaming, no one’s going to complain about getting stuck with an off-brand gamepad these days. But with 8BitDo’s new SN30 Pro+, it’s now actually hard to recommend Nintendo’s $70 hardware when for $50 you can get a Switch-friendly wireless controller that feels better in the hand, offers buttons with a nicer tactile response, works with other gaming systems, and can be completely reconfigured and customized to suit even the most obsessive gamers.

The SN30 Pro+ looks like a mashup of the Switch Pro Controller and the PS4 DualShock gamepad, with side by side analog joysticks and a directional pad paired with a set of four action buttons. I actually prefer the asymmetrical analog stick layout of the Switch Pro Controller, but the directional pad on the SN30 Pro+ feels mushier (in a good way) and better suited to the intense button-mashing needed for playing retro 2D games, while the glossy action buttons rekindle fond memories of the N64 and SNES’ own controllers.

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Another big improvement is that unlike the Switch Pro Controller and the Joy-Cons, the SN30 Pro+ includes a pair of analog triggers with extensive travel so that when playing titles like racing games you can better control your acceleration. It’s a feature that’s supported by many games in the Switch library, but not by Nintendo’s actual controller hardware, which is bizarre. The SN30 Pro+ also includes motion controls and rumbling. Neither are quite as effective or nuanced as Nintendo’s own implementations, but those are also features I, personally, don’t care about.

The SN30 Pro+ not only features a swappable rechargeable battery, but it can also be replaced with a pair of AAs as needed.
Photo: Andrew Liszewski (Gizmodo)
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Unlike the third-party controllers of yesteryear, 8BitDo’s build quality is satisfyingly solid and more and more I find myself reaching for the company’s hardware for gaming. The SN30 Pro+ also includes a rechargeable battery that can be juiced up with a USB-C cable, but it only offers about 20 hours of gameplay. Nintendo’s Pro Controller boasts 40. But 8BitDo has made its battery pack removable, so you can swap it for a backup, or a pair of readily available AA batteries should you find yourself in a gaming emergency.

Syncing the SN30 Pro+ to the Switch, a computer, or even an Android device isn’t terribly complicated, but it requires different combinations of buttons to be pressed at power up for each specific device. It’s a process I always need to look up first online, so I would love for 8BitDo to print or etch those instructions and button combos on the back of their controllers for easy reference. Once synced, however, the SN30 Pro+ automatically paired with my Switch whenever they were both powered up.

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8BitDo’s Ultimate Software is currently only available for Windows and macOS, there’s no mobile app, which is kind of disappointing.
Screenshot: Andrew Liszewski (Gizmodo)

At this point, I’d still consider it a toss-up between the Switch Pro Controller and the SN30 Pro+, but with the latter, you also get the 8BitDo Ultimate Software which, in a manner of speaking, can be a literal game-changer. If you’ve ever gone into a game’s settings to remap a couple of buttons or invert a joystick’s behavior, then you’re mostly familiar with what the Ultimate Software can do. But whereas only a few games actually offer a good level of controller customizability in their settings, the SN30 Pro+ brings it to everything.

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The 8BitDo Ultimate Software, available for Windows and macOS computers, lets gamers customize almost every aspect of the controller, and save various configurations for easy access later. You can remap any of the buttons, turn down or increase the rumbling feedback, program custom macros to trigger a series of commands with a single button press, adjust the sensitivity of the analog joysticks and triggers, and generally make the controller behave exactly how you prefer.

Many of the tweaks you make to the SN30 Pro+ can be tested in real-time inside the 8BitDo Ultimate Software app.
Photo: Andrew Liszewski (Gizmodo)
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I understood why such customizability was important to some gamers, but the SN30 Pro+’s best feature didn’t seem like something I’d ever actually use until I downloaded Star Wars: Jedi Knight II: Jedi Outcast—a game I was very excited to see ported to the Switch until I played it. On a PC the game’s first few missions, when your character doesn’t wield the Force or a lightsaber, are easy to beat with a mouse, but dramatically more challenging when played with a gamepad. So much so that I immediately sought out cheat codes to give my character the Force, a lightsaber, and an admittedly unfair advantage right from the start.

Making matters worse was the fact that inverting the joystick’s Y-axis for aiming isn’t possible in Jedi Knight II’s settings: an option that many gamers, including myself, prefer. Frustrated, I turned to the SN30 Pro+ and sure enough, inverting the Y-axis on the joystick was an easy one-click fix, as was re-arranging the action buttons because, for some reason, I kept accidentally activating the weapon select menu while playing. It took all of two minutes to fix and remedy some missing features in a game I was ready to completely abandon.

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If there was one thing I’d improve about the SN30 Pro+ it’s that right now it can only be configured using the 8BitDo Ultimate Software app on a computer, and repeatedly having to connect and reconnect the controller with a USB-C cable to test your tweaks gets tedious. It also makes it hard to load up other configurations when you’re away from your laptop. A mobile version of the app that worked wirelessly would be a big improvement as you could just turn to your iOS or Android phone which is always in reach.

It would also help to be able to do A/B testing right on the controller, where two different configurations could be uploaded and quickly toggled with a switch so you could easily test which one played better in a game. But even with those suggested improvements, I’m still quite impressed with the SN30 Pro+. 8BitDo has finally managed to do something this old school gamer never thought possible: it’s created a controller that’s not only better than Nintendo’s, but cheaper too.

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README

  • It’s a third-party controller that manages to outperform Nintendo’s own Switch Pro Controller, and for $20 cheaper.
  • The 8BitDo Ultimate Software offers an impressive level of controller customizability, but it only works on Windows or macOS computers.
  • The SN30 Pro+ does include motion control functionality, but it doesn’t feel as nuanced as the Switch’s Joy-Cons.
  • Includes analog triggers that none of Nintendo’s controllers do, despite it being a feature the Switch supports.
  • Relies on Bluetooth so it can also be connected to PCs, Android devices, and even the Raspberry Pi.
  • Removable rechargeable battery can be swapped with AA when you can’t charge it.
  • No built-in NFC, so you won’t be able to use this controller to load Amiibo figure content.
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